I Know You Think I Let My Child Get Away With Murder

by Patti Podnar
Originally Published: 

I know you think I let my child get away with murder. I’ve seen you shooting condescending glances my way, and I know you think all my child needs is a good kick in the backside. I know, because that’s what I would be thinking if I were in your shoes. But I’m in my own shoes, and I know some things you don’t.

I know that my child has a mood disorder and that it takes enough meds to knock an elephant out just to get him through the day. I know that, for the first 10 years of his life, his whole being was focused on proving to the world that, “You’re not the boss of me.” And I know that I made a lot of mistakes by trying to establish that, “Oh, yes, I am the boss of you!” Because parents are supposed to be in charge, right?

Yes, they are, at least that’s what I thought until I began learning—and am still learning every day—about parenting a child with a mood disorder. But now I know that there are things I can’t be in charge of. I can’t demand that my child’s brain work correctly–that it stop lying to him, insisting that little things are big things. I can’t do that any more than I could demand that a child in a wheelchair get up and walk. All I can be in charge of is doing the best I can to manage the things that I can control. And sometimes, that may not fit your image of the right way to discipline a child.

Here’s the thing: Discipline is supposed to be about teaching. And I don’t mean, “I’m gonna teach you a lesson.” I mean real teaching, the kind that prepares our children to live in the real world. In fact, the word “discipline” comes from the Latin word disciplina, which means “instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge.” That realization forced me to consider a really important question: If there is no learning taking place, is it really discipline, or is it just imposing my will on a disabled child? Because even a child with an infuriating disability is still a child with a disability.

You may not always see it, but I do attempt to discipline my child. I attempt to teach him critical thinking, and cause and effect. I try to teach him to think through the logical ramifications of decisions. Sometimes it works. But there comes a point where upset crosses over into hysterical irrationality. There comes a point where he’s not capable of rational thought. In those cases, how can any true learning take place?

That’s why I gave into him yesterday when parents of “typical” kids would have probably said, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He had ordered a new Nerf gun, and he came home from school only to discover an email telling him the shipment had been delayed—not a big deal for most kids. But, for a kid for whom the start of school is equivalent to “enhanced interrogation,” it was the last straw. He fell apart and insisted that we order another one. I tried to explain that ordering another gun from the same vendor wouldn’t help, but he was beyond being able to process logical reasoning. So I ordered another. The first one got here yesterday; I’ll send the second one back when it arrives. Silly? Of course it is. But refusing to order it would not have taught him anything, because he was in a state where he was incapable of learning. All it would have accomplished is making the afternoon even more miserable for him and his younger siblings.

My default option is always to try to teach my son how to navigate the world. But when I know that he’s crossed that line where he’s no longer capable of rational thought, I choose peace. So, if you’re ever looking my way and thinking that I’m a lazy parent who won’t go to the trouble of disciplining my child, you’re wrong. I completely understand why you would think that, but you’re still wrong. I’m playing by a different set of rules than you are, and I have to do the best I can with the hand I’ve been dealt.

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